Acting Industry Minister Michaelia Cash says the creation of a spanking new National Space Agency marks the start of a “new era” of space science and innovation in Australia.
Speaking to the International Astronautical Congress 2017 in Adelaide this week, Senator Cash put some additional shape on the government rationale for backing the new agency and where it will initially focus its attention.
The federal government said on Monday morning it would move ahead with a national space agency to coordinate the industry in Australia, a concept also backed by the Opposition.
The government has tasked its expert reference group, formed earlier this year to investigate Australia’s space industry capability, to formulate the agency’s structure and scope, and won’t be releasing further details of its operations, location or funding until at least early next year.
In a keynote address that was meant to have been delivered by Arthur Sinodinos – who is now on extended sick leave – Senator Cash also hinted at new legislation for the space industry and further agreements with the US.
“Our national space agency will act as the doorway to our international space engagement and it will ensure that Australia has a strategic long-term plan that supports the development and application of space technologies and grows our domestic space industry,” Senator Cash said.
“When people ask, ‘will we have a NASA?’ No. We will have an Australian space agency [that is] right for our nation.”
Although government has not decided where the agency will be located, the South Australian, Northern Territory and ACT governments have recently signed an agreement to collaborate on their efforts with the national agency.
Senator Cash said all levels of government need to work together with industry on the project.
“It is terrific to see the enthusiasm this announcement has rallied across the spectrum of space science and politics,” she said.
“If ever there was an opportunity for legislators and policy-makers, federal and state, to put aside partisanship and focus on the greater good of the nation and planet, it is now.”
“Collaboration between industry, scientists and governments is critical for developing Australia’s indigenous space industry capability. In fact, collaboration is critical to our global space capability.”
Senator Cash hinted that the agency’s main focus would be on industry development to deliver more jobs and more revenue.
“The space industry is vital to Australia’s economic and social well-being. We want to grow the commercial potential of our space sector and harness opportunities in the global space economy,” she said.
Australia is on the verge of signing a new agreement on space with the US, updating a bilateral agreement the two countries signed on space vehicle tracking nearly 60 years ago, she said.
The acting minister also confirmed that the government would introduce legislation that would “simplify the way we regulate the sector and reduce barriers to participation in space activities” once the expert reference group reports back in March.
From its initial consultation process, this group identified a number of key issues, including the need for a national strategy on space, enhanced coordination of domestic activities in the sector, the need for a single point of coordination for international engagement and enhanced support to develop industry capability.
It’s for these reasons that the government has moved to launch a space agency, Senator Cash said.
“It will provide the vehicle for Australia to have a long-term strategic plan for space – a plan that supports the innovative application of space technologies and grows our domestic space industry, including through defence space procurement,” she said.
The government’s review of the space sector has been criticised by many, including the Opposition, as being “redundant”. But Senator Cash said it was necessary to once again investigate the rapidly changing sector.
“This is not just about an agency for an agency’s sake: that is why this review process is so important. We now need to put in the hard work to determine what form of agency and what mandate is best suited to support our growing space industry,” she said.
“I have heard people ask, ‘why even have a review?’. Well, the space industry of today is not the same as it was a decade ago, and likely not the same as it will be a decade from now.
“It is crucial that we take the time now to understand that landscape and create the structure and policies – and the agency – that are right for the industry of today and tomorrow, not the industry of yesterday.”